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Governor visits tornado-torn Bertie

LEWISTON-WOODVILLE – Life is far from normal in areas of Bertie County.

Tuesday saw some families continuing to sort through the rubble of their homes while others continued cleanup efforts as they strive to return to some semblance of normality.

As people in the Lewiston Woodville and Connaritsa Road communities continued to work, North Carolina Governor Mike Easley got a first-hand view of the damage done by tornadoes that struck Sunday afternoon during one of the worst storms in the past 25 years.

After meeting with local officials about the damage, which is centered on Piney Woods Road and Connaritsa Road, the governor gave an update of the current conditions.

“There are 47 homes that have been damaged,” he said. “Sixteen of those are destroyed while another three have major damage. The other 28 have minor damage.”

Easley said six people were injured during the storm, but only one remains hospitalized, a female resident who was thrown from her mobile home when it was destroyed. He said after surgery the woman’s condition is improving.

Easley said the North Carolina Department of Transportation began working shortly after 7 p.m. Sunday to clear the roads and, he believes, is making progress towards that goal.

He indicated DOT would pick up any debris that was in the right-of-way and encouraged those who were having trouble moving it to the right-of-way to contact DOT.

“This community has done a fantastic job of coming together,” the governor said. “As we were talking about inside, Bertie is a poor county. When you have millions of dollars of damage here, it is more than if it were in other counties.”

The governor also indicated help was coming for those who had their home destroyed or damaged. That command center has been set up at Mt. Olive Baptist Church just outside of Lewiston Woodville.

He said 13 of the 16 homes that were destroyed were uninsured, but said the individual assistance from the state would help families up to $28,000.

Before arriving for his meeting, the governor took an aerial tour of both Piney Woods Road and Connaritsa Road and said he saw a lot of damage.

“As we toured from the air, we could see the tornado was what we call a hopper,” he said. “Most of the damage we saw was to roofs.

“The tornado, combined with the rain, is what caused most of the destruction,” he added.

The governor also said he saw DOT trucks out working.

“Our main focus is to make sure the injured are taken care of and to get people in their homes,” he said.

Asked if he would declare Bertie County a disaster area, Gov. Easley said that was done based on a formula that wasn’t complete.

“We declare a disaster area by numbers, but for practical purposes, this is a disaster area,” he said. “We’re treating it like one already.”

Bertie County Commission Chairman Norman Cherry spoke after the governor and thanked the state’s chief executive for visiting the county.

“Thank you to the governor and his staff for coming,” he said. “Regardless of whether it was one or 50 homes, right now we look at ourselves as the most important county in the state.”

Lewiston Woodville Mayor Carl Lee also was thankful for the help that has come to the area.

“I want to thank the governor,” Lee said. “Inside he promised to help us recover from this disaster. I also want to thank Bertie County and the county manager for all they have done.

“Continue to pray for us,” he closed.

After the press conference, Bertie County Commissioner Charles Smith talked to the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald about the damage he had seen during his tour.

“It’s devastating,” he said. “Houses are torn up, trees are on top of homes, but people are working.”

Smith said he felt Luella Baptist Church was likely destroyed beyond repair and that he felt for the community.

He also said the damage was the worst he had seen since tornadoes destroyed homes and took lives just a few miles away on Moore Road in the mid 1980s.

“We need to give people all the help we can,” he said. “We have joined hand-in-hand to work together. People have done a tremendous job.”